CSIRO - Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

10/20/2023 | News release | Distributed by Public on 10/19/2023 16:19

The road ahead: cruising toward the future of solar energy

By Ruth Dawkins19 October 20234 min read

Key points

  • As part of the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, we're helping teams test energy systems for solar-powered vehicles.
  • We're supporting the Cruiser Class vehicles, measuring energy usage and contributing to the competition rankings.
  • The data we collect will help us develop new and better ways of integrating electric vehicles into Australia's renewable energy system.

This is the first year Dr Sam Behrens and Charlotte Farnworth are supporting the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge (BWSC). The Challenge will see solar-powered vehicles race along a 3000-kilometre track from Darwin to Adelaide.

Sam and Charlotte are both based at our Newcastle Energy Centre. Sam is an experienced engineer whose focus is on making sure that solar panels, electric cars and batteries can work together seamlessly with the electrical grid. Charlotte is part of the transport electrification team where she develops technology and computer programs needed to test energy systems for vehicles. Her focus during the challenge will be software integration.

It's Charlotte's first time working on the challenge.

"My research involves battery performance testing. Like everyone involved at CSIRO, I am excited to see the technology put on display and then put to the test leading up to the event.

"From batteries, and battery management systems, to solar cells and solar vehicles, everything we see and test at BWSC is shaping the future of electric vehicles worldwide."

Watts at stake: our Cruiser Class support at BWSC

Teams participating in the Challenge have entered their vehicle into one of three classes:

  • Challenger class: traditional solar cars built for speed. This class is conducted in a single stage from Darwin to Adelaide.
  • Cruiser class: advanced concept cars which can carry at least one passenger and resemble consumer vehicles. This class is conducted in three 1200-kilometre stages.
  • Adventure class: a non-competitive category for cars built for previous events.

Sam and Charlotte are providing support for the eleven teams taking part in the Cruiser class. These vehicles must make ambitious time windows at control stops. But they are allowed to charge externally at Tennant Creek and Coober Pedy.

"Over the coming days we will be providing electric charging infrastructure for the Cruiser class vehicles at the two locations," Sam said.

"As part of that, we will be measuring the amount of energy that goes into the vehicles. We'll provide that information to the event organisers to use it as part of their calculations to determine the winner of the class.

"Basically, the less you charge from the two sites, the higher your ranking is."

Burning rubber, not batteries at BWSC

Our researchers are involved in every stage of BWSC. They'll be there in the lead up to the event start in Darwin through to the finish line and post-challenge analysis in Adelaide. The Cruiser class vehicles are expected to reach Victoria Square in the heart of Adelaide beginning the morning of 27 October.

"During the lead up, we have been checking our equipment to make sure everything is working. We set up a charger so the teams could test and make sure they're able to charge their vehicles using our equipment," Charlotte said.

Charlotte and her team are well-prepared. They have extra chargers on hand in case there are any problems, and they've even created a backup version of the software that controls the charging process, just in case something goes wrong.

She's also been working with other researchers on something called "load management for smart charging," which involves using a special communication protocol (Open Charge Point Protocol or OCPP) to exchange information between charging stations and a central system. Additionally, she's created software that can store and transfer data for electric vehicles, just in case the original software has issues.

Charlotte anticipates that teams will face the challenge of harsh temperatures along the route, potentially affecting battery performance and the ability to recharge at Tennant Creek and Coober Pedy. That proved to be a significant challenge at Tennant Creek during the last event in 2019 so it's something that this year's support teams are keeping front of mind.

"When you're working in those real-world conditions, you can be pushing the battery safety systems to the limit because it's so hot," Charlotte said.

"As a result, the teams will be managing their cooling systems to try and keep everything happy. It will be a challenge - but that also means it's the best place to conduct those tests."

Revving up renewables: the impact of EVs on our grids

Coober Pedy and Tennant Creek both rely on small-scale microgrids for their electricity supply. Examining the impact of electric vehicle charging on these microgrids will improve our understanding of the implications for larger-scale grids.

"10 vehicles charging at Coober Pedy is the equivalent of 100,000 vehicles charging on the National Electricity Market grid. The latter stretches across the east coast of Australia," Sam said.

He is excited about collecting data from both microgrid sites while the electric vehicles are charging.

"We are conducting experiments to balance different parts of the microgrid using electric vehicles. The results will help us understand how the grid responds. And will allow us to develop new ways to incorporate electric vehicles into Australia's renewable energy system," Sam said.

"We'll gather useful scientific data while providing infrastructure and support for the BWSC teams."

At the finish line in Adelaide, they will assess the final data. This will help determine event placings and the winner of the CSIRO Innovation Award. It will also help us refine how we are reinforcing our energy grids as we accelerate the shift from fossil fuels to cleaner, renewable energy powered vehicles.

"It is amazing for our research to be a part of the event's enthusiastic and pioneering spirit. Working with the researchers and scientists from all the teams here makes the partnership between the BWSC and CSIRO purposeful and exciting," Charlotte said.